Family, neighbors mourn Modesto man killed while walking dog

April 30, 2008 

A neighborhood known for its struggle with violence, drugs, poverty and blight came together to honor a Modesto man who was shot to death while walking his dog early Tuesday.

It's the eighth homicide in Modesto this year. Police say at least three of them were gang-related.

In this most recent attack, which occurred in the airport neighborhood, a 51-year-old man was shot dead, police said, and a 29-year-old man was shot in the leg but is expected to survive. Police have not released their names, but family and friends said Clarence "Buddy" Mason was the man killed.

The victims were not gang members, said Modesto police Sgt. Scott Heller, adding that their shooter likely is a "criminal street gang member" based on the investigation thus far.

There is no indication, Heller said, that this shooting had anything to do with two drive-bys in west Modesto on Friday that left a 22-month-old boy in the hospital, a 14-year-old dead and a 15-year-old injured.

Police have questioned several people in connection with the airport neighborhood shooting. They detained one man at least through Tuesday evening after stopping him in Oregon Park about noon.

The shooting happened about 2:30 a.m. as Mason and a friend were walking Mason's dog, Grace, around the corner from his Kerr Avenue home, according to family members. Police say a man who might have been on a bicycle came upon them and shot them. The dog was not injured.

Friends of the victims said Mason and his friend were walking the dog when a third man rode past them on his bike. Mason's friend called out to the bicyclist, who stopped and began to head back toward them. As he turned, he fell off his bike. Mason and his friend laughed at him.

The bicyclist then got up, pulled a gun from his pocket and emptied the clip at them, according to various people in the neighborhood.

"That's what the word is," said Martin Harris, who said he knew Mason for 27 years.

Police would not confirm those details Tuesday. But Heller said the fight appeared to be related to "intimidation or an argument over a respect issue."

Mason was known to friends as "Buddy." He had lived in his airport neighborhood home for about 30 years.

"He was a generous person," Harris said. "He'd give you his last $5 to feed your kids and he'd go hungry. He never did a bad thing to anybody."

Harris said his friend often walked his dogs late at night. With about five dogs and no fenced-in yard, Mason took them out when they needed to go, Harris said.

Mason was a "scrapper," or scrap metal collector, friends said. His home is decorated with some of his prized finds, said his son Jimmie Perdue, 36: Metal wheelbarrows line the front of the property, and an old-fashioned white gas pump stands sentry by the driveway.

Mason's "pride and joy," Harris said, was a yellow Chevrolet tow truck that was parked outside the home Tuesday. Neighbors and friends covered every surface of the truck with maroon and pink roses, placing them on the hood, tucking them into the door handles and twining them around the bumpers.

Man detained in park

Investigators questioned people in the airport neighborhood Tuesday about the shooting. Officers were waiting for approval of a search warrant in the 700 block of Kerr when they learned that a man possibly linked to the shooting was in the area.

Around noon, police sped toward Oregon Park to find him. About 60 people were at the park, waiting in line for the arrival of a United Samaritans Foundation lunch truck when police cars pulled up to a nearby house. Officers got out of their cars and the chatter stopped as onlookers watched police decide their next move.

"That's the guy, that's the guy," a woman told police, according to officer Mike Amarillas. The woman pointed into the park at a man on a bike who was wearing a long red Chicago Bulls basketball jersey.

As police moved into the park, women who had been waiting in the lunch line rushed to push strollers and pull toddlers across the street. One woman, a panicked look on her face, tossed her toddler into a man's arms in the middle of Oregon Drive, then ran back toward the action.

The man in the red jersey was walking out of the park beside his bike and did not respond to officers' orders to stop, so they pushed him down and handcuffed him, witnesses said. As they walked him to a patrol car, the crowd followed.

"He's going away for life," one man said.

"Airport gang violence, shut it down," a woman said.

"They're on it!" said another man. "Who'd they get?"

People in the neighborhood said the detained man goes by the name "Baby S---."

"He ripped me off for $30," Patty Mejia said as she watched officers take the man away. "He was supposed to get me a bicycle. I'm glad they got him."

Police have not released the man's name or said that he's a suspect in the shooting. But many people in the neighborhood said the man who was detained at the park shot Mason and his friend.

Memorial erected on corner

Family and friends built a memorial with a cross, stuffed animals and flowers beneath the street lamp at Larkin Avenue and Kerr, where Mason died. Tuesday afternoon, neighbors continued to decorate Mason's truck, leaving balloons, bouquets and candles.

"He'd help a stranger in a minute. He didn't care if you said 'thank you,' " said Jeannine Cobb, who walked up to the Chevy pushing a stroller brimming with roses. "There won't be another one like him."

Mason was known for helping tow neighbors' cars when they needed it and making sure all the neighborhood dogs, even strays, had their shots.

He might have shielded his friend when the shooting started early Tuesday, which would account for four bullet holes in the back of his jacket, said Mason's wife, Janice Mason.

"He was a good man. He didn't do anything wrong. He didn't give anybody any problems. I really don't know why this happened. I don't. Because he was always good to everybody."

Neighbors plan to have a car wash about noon today at the intersection of Oregon and Kerr to raise money for Mason's funeral.

Richard "Rick" James, 66, lives down the street from Mason's home. The two were related by marriage. James has lived in the neighborhood since 1946. He heard the gunshots that killed Mason, but said he didn't think much of them, because gunfire in the neighborhood is commonplace.

Susan Jarrell, 55, who moved into the neighborhood a few months ago, is not used to the violence.

"It's scary," she said. "I spent a lot of time up in the mountains during deer season. And there's more gunfire here than there is up there."

The police ask anyone with information about this shooting to call Detective Phil Owen at 572-9551 or CrimeStoppers at 521-4636. Callers to CrimeStoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward.

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.

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